Heartwarming and endearing as Love is a Mixtape, this book let me into the mind of a high school boy, someplace I thought I would never dare nor want to go. The book begins just as the long-winded, large-vocabular-ied thoughts of a loner at the bottom of the high school food chain. The main things you ascertain is that his nickname is King Dork, he has exactly one friend (Sam Hellerman), he likes to make up fake band names, album names, and album covers with Sam, and he hates–nay, loathes–The Catcher in the Rye.
The story turns into a mystery, but the mystery isn’t the point of the story. It gets lost in the minutiae of life: girls, high school, Sam being weird, teachers being stupid, families responding to their son going through adolescence. I loved the book, and I thought it was witty but a bit detached: about high school but definitely written as an adult looking back fondly (?) on high school.
Personally, I don’t think of high school as The Best Years Of My Life, but yeah I do miss it every so often. Much like college, when you’re in it you don’t realize the awesomeness of having your friends around you at all times, but this fact does not sink in until much later. What’s different about Portman’s writing is that it takes a two-tiered approach: at times it seems the tone is more wistful and older, not at all like the high schooler he claims to be. But then he brings it back to the inner workings of a high school boy’s brain. Still, the way the book wavers between the two is a bit disconcerting, and even as I read it and wanted to believe that the narrator was a high school boy, I couldn’t shake the fact that I knew the person who wrote it was older. The fourth wall stayed up. The boundaries were drawn.
My favorite parts of this book were the ridiculous conversations between Sam and Tom, the making of the band names, Tom’s mom and boyfriend accusing him of doing drugs or contemplating suicide, and Tom’s tireless quest with a girl he “accidently” felt up at a Halloween party, Fiona. These were the parts of the book that really shone and made me feel like I was really “in it.” The ending was rushed and convoluted, and I remember several times that there would be references to things that may have only been mentioned once, at the beginning of the book. Despite this, it was a good read and warranted a pass along to the classic rock lover in my life.